Disney digests a movie bomb with ‘John Carter’

Jennifer Collins Mar 12, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: I thankfully managed to dodge having to go see “The Lorax” this weekend, so Universal Studios won’t be able to count any of my money toward its No. 1 box office position for that film.

Coming in at a very distant second place was “John Carter,” the Disney film about a military officer mysteriously transported to Mars. Normally, we wouldn’t do a story about the No. 2 movie, but “John Carter” is one of the most expensive films ever made — expensive as in more than $200 million.

It’s also on track to be one of the biggest flops ever. What does an entertainment company do with a flop like that? Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: Disney was trying to make a star.

“John Carter” clip: “You’re John Carter of Earth?” “Yes.”

John Carter wasn’t just meant to be one film. That huge budget was a kind of down payment on a franchise of John Carters.

Edward Jay Epstein: WhatHollywood’s trying to do here is re-create an adult audience for adventure movies.

Edward Jay Epstein is the author of the “Hollywood Economist 2.0.”

Epstein: But this seems to be, you know, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” set in Mars or something, so it’s a science fiction, it’s mixing genres.

And adults in the U.S. didn’t get it, so those sequels are likely out.

The movie did bring in $100 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Not bad, says Paul Dergarabedian, who tracks box office data for Hollywood.com.

Paul Dergarabedian: All that matters is it’s balanced against a $250 million budget that seems like not a strong opening.

Add even more costs for marketing and analysts estimate Disney will take a loss of more than $100 million. Tony Wible of Janney Capital Markets says the “John Carter” flop is likely to cause the company to take fewer risks on unfamiliar franchises.

Tony Wible: We’ll ultimately probably be at a point where you have two Pixar movies a year and maybe two Marvel movies a year, and Disney only putting out films that they have real brand value.

Wible says Disney is hoping that the international box office, DVD sales and TV rights will help limit the damage from “John Carter.”

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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